Saab Grintek goes farming

Johannesburg, 30 Aug 2007

Saab Grintek, the empowerment technology company, has won a R8.5 million contract from the state-run Agricultural Research Council (ARC). It will upgrade ARC's data and communication network so that its 28 sites around the country interconnect.

"One of the elements that the ARC identified in this latest contract was the way in which it communicated," says Saab Grintek Group CEO Makhup Nyama. "Many of its research projects require sharing large volumes of data, and the ability to teleconference and communicate with researchers at any of its 28 sites around the country."

Sites vary in size from as little as eight users, to as many as 400 users. In its entirety, the contract calls for 3 000 cabled points served from 13 server rooms.

"To achieve our vision to be a nationally and internationally recognised 'centre of excellence' in agricultural science and innovation, we need to be able to communicate and move data between the various sites fast and efficiently," says ARC CEO Dr Nthoana Tau-Mzamane.

Resilient solution

Saab Grintek will supply a high-capacity core routing switch, coupled with access switch uplinks, to provide an infrastructure tough enough to successfully carry voice and multimedia applications concurrently.

The Nortel Split Multi-Link Trunking (SMLT) architecture is expected to help eliminate single points of failure and create multiple paths from user access switches to the core of the network.

"Compatible with 802.3ad, SMLT does more than prevent network loops," says Jim Whelan, marketing manager of Saab Grintek's enterprise division.

"SMLT provides architecture to design resiliency directly into the network. It also works to reroute failures as quickly as possible. In most cases, network reconvergence is a sub-second. Firewalling and IDS functions can be accommodated on the core switch for future network evolution."

The integrated power over Ethernet technology incorporated in the switch range is another important factor for going the Nortel route. This provides power and data connectivity to devices such as Internet phones, wireless access points, network cameras, security and lighting, and access control devices, he says.

ARC will provide layer one maintenance and backup, while Saab Grintek has been contracted to provide layer two and three support, ensuring the network enjoys a low level of downtime.

Adding VOIP

"While ARC's network has coped reasonably up to now, it needed to plan ahead and ensure that when adding VOIP telephony, it retained data flow integrity," adds Whelan. "While VOIP is bandwidth-intensive, it offers large cost saving opportunities as no voice calls between the various institutes will have to break out into the public network."

The various sites will be equipped with the technology to handle the bandwidth required for VOIP. Although at this stage VOIP telephony will only be installed at some of the major sites, all the others are ready to accommodate VOIP as the voice network expands.

"It is a challenging project, requiring extensive cabling between the various buildings making up one remote site, which is then connected to the head office site in Hatfield," Whelan explains.

"We have engaged Interconnect Systems, a company that specialises in site cabling, to take care of that aspect of the project, while we concentrate on the supply and installation of the switches and ancillary equipment," he adds.

ARC currently has disparate types of hardware at the various sites and some of the interconnecting fibre cables have come to the end of their usable life and need upgrading.

Saab Grintek engineers worked closely with the ARC CIO and staff to develop a network architecture that will be future-proof for a minimum of three years, the companies say. In addition, the network has to provide for central management of user access and provisioning of network policies.

The contract also included the provision of lightning protection in areas where it is needed. Here Saab Grintek worked with Clearline to achieve maximum protection.

The next phase of the project is to look at updating the firewall and intruder detection, which is outside the current contract.

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